This article is jam packed with introductions and links to explore your understanding and relationship with trees. It includes practical suggestions for what you can do and explores the heritage of humanity's relationship with trees, the global intact forests, trees in your landscape, hearing from people who live in forests and a broader sense of the current threats and action that safeguards our global forest.
Heritage of Humanity's Relationship with Trees
Our relationship with forests goes back to the dawn of humanity. The tree of life features in stories, creation myths and religious literature of every continent. Every landmass! You can explore this through the website of treesister Laural Virtues Wauters. This global shared human narrative, in every human culture across the planet, speaks to what trees are and their relationship with us. It also helps us to remember who we are.
With so much changing in the world at the moment, finding your way back to a relationship with forests can mean opening yourself to some painful information. Remember you are not alone. You have a global network of tree sisters and brothers standing shoulder to shoulder with you as you explore and learn. The “resourcing yourself in this work” section at the end of this blog includes some TreeSisters offerings. While some information around deforestation and extraction may be overwhelming, connecting to the Global Forest at this time on Earth is also clarifying, personally empowering and beautiful beyond words.
Image Credit: S.Martineau photographed from “Indaba, My Children: African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs” by Credo Mutwa
Familiarise yourself with the Global Intact Forests
The World Conservation Society map is a good guide to the five main intact forest regions. TreeSisters funds reforestation across the Tropics for a variety of reasons, one of which is because trees absorb the greatest levels of CO2 here and this equatorial belt helps to stabilise our global weather systems. We invite you to take a look at our Tree Strategy to find out more. We celebrate all the numerous individuals, communities, groups and international organisations working together across all of these forests in their extraordinary passion, strength and resilience.
Forests are described by their environmental conditions (biomes). A great place to get a broad picture is the UN Food and Agriculture Organisations’ Youth Guide to Global Forests.
Image Credit: World Conservation Society
The main biomes are:
TreeSisters planting partners plant in all tropical forest biomes, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests, Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests, as well as Mangroves. Our current portfolio of planting or assisting trees to regenerate in degraded forest landscapes including trees to regreen farms or rural settlements in the tropical humid and semi-arid biomes. Forest types include: mangroves, tropical mountain forests (Mt Kenya and Mt Bamboutos), lowland humid forests (Brazil and Borneo), tropical dry forests (Madagascar). Some trees are not species found in the forests but the trees are chosen to support livelihoods. Find out more on our Grow Forests page.
What You Can Do: Get Your Bearings
A good way to evolve your relationship with the forests of the world is to orientate yourself in your position on the Earth then locate the direction of each forest. You can use the Sun, or stars, a compass or map to locate north, east, south and west. At night the North Star (Polaris) in the Northern hemisphere or Southern Cross in the Southern hemisphere can help you get your bearings. When you’re ready, find a place outside, feel your feet rooted on the Earth and face the direction of where each of these great forests stands relative to where you are. Become aware of the direction of the wind on your face, the weather systems above you and feel into the relationship of the clouds and skies to the forests and the air you breathe.
Image credit: N. NGUYEN/SCIENCE
Trees in a Landscape Near You
Research by Crowther Labs in 2015 showed the number of trees globally at around 3 trillion. You could call the global forest all of those trees and bushes dotted all over your landscape and mine. One way of seeing this bigger picture is to explore the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch satellite maps. There are 60,000 species of trees globally identified by the Global Tree Campaign, they mainly break down into deciduous trees which drop their leaves in winter and evergreen trees which keep their leaves all year. It’s good to get a tree guide (another human, a book or app) so you can identify different tree species and get to know their gifts and properties. There are recommendations of good books at the end of this blog. That said, the old model of classifying and labelling trees and thinking that means you know them because you’ve named them, may not enhance your direct relationship with individual trees.
All trees give you direct access to a relationship with the Global Forest. Their presence in your landscape gives you a doorway into the huge contribution that trees make in a way that is observable and tangible. Many women in the TreeSisters online network, the Nest, speak of their direct experience of consciousness in their relationship with trees, which maybe speaks to why Native Americans refer to trees as Standing People.
What You Can Do: Connecting with a Tree
Take the time to be with a chosen tree. We invite you to spend time using all your senses, an open mind and heart in getting to know trees.
Image credit : Eden Reforestation Projects
Once you have done this, take the time to sit and be with the tree. If you are looking to deepen connection to the tree’s consciousness, traditionally it is good practice to internally ask if you have permission to be with the tree and honour the answer you receive. Trees can’t walk away and it might be busy. If you feel a yes then offer it a gift as a reciprocal sign of your honouring the trees’ wisdom. Gifts traditionally include tobacco in the US, barley in the UK and you may need to do some research into your landscape traditions. If in doubt, a song or spring water can be good. Then let yourself receive and trust what comes.
Personally I find it really helps to make notes of what I feel and the thoughts I have when around specific tree species. This can then inform any follow up research you want to do or personal actions you feel to take as a result. You think you’ll remember, but when you leave the space of connecting with the tree often you also leave the space of openness and clarity that the tree holds. You are always welcome to ask questions or share experiences like this within the Nest. We have included more resources from TreeSisters for meditations to connect with the moon, Earth and trees at the end of the article.
Learn From the People Who Live in the Forests
Forest peoples famously protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity alongside knowing what it is to live in and alongside the great forests sustainably. To get to know these forests it’s vital to hear from the people who live in them. Cultures who respect plants, animals and the natural world as teachers have an understanding and relationship with “biodiversity” that is beyond the western educational systems mindset. This connection to the Earth community is innate in all humans and our birthright. It is important to understand the manners and mode of conduct that is respectful in relationships with Nature. Robin Wall Kimmer Braiding Sweetgrass is a good place to start if this feels unfamiliar.
What You Can Do: Listen and Learn
I recommend the films made by forest communities themselves. You can find some great short films at ‘If Not Us Then Who?’ One of the best articulations of the indigenous relationship with the forest comes in the form of the Sarayaku’s Living Forest Declaration. This video of Tribes of Alaska and the Pacific NorthWest also describes the practical cultural traditions that embed their relationship with trees into the everyday.
TreeSisters values learning from a number of networks including the Mother Earth Delegation of United Indigenous Nations and grassroots networks in Asia and South America. Our wonderful team member Terra Canova holds a regular space and platform for indigenous voices through the monthly Indigenous Wisdom for the Earth Series. The incredibly high calibre previous calls can be seen and listened to here.
Sônia Bone Guajajara outside of the United Nations in New York City. As part of a WECAN International delegation to advocate for Indigenous rights and protection of the Amazon rainforest. Photo by Teena Pugliese/WECAN International
Getting Real About What's Going on in Forests
Right now it is also critical to be aware of what is being experienced in the daily lives of these communities as a direct impact of industrial logging, mining, infrastructure projects, agricultural expansion and biopiracy. There are many groups doing very important work locally and internationally, I invite you to explore them.
Osprey Oriel Lake, Founder of WECAN is speaking in our Reforest Our Future: Live Panel discussion on 27th October. The links below are by no means exhaustive:
* Yes to life no to mining network * Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) * Survival International * Forest Peoples Program * NGO Forest Coalition * Amazon Watch * Global Rights of Nature * Vandana Shiva *
What You Can Do: Make Choices to Safeguard the Global Forest
We can make choices to support goods and services that have deforestation-free supply chains. If those choices aren’t available in your local shops then you can put pressure on those shops to meet your ethical and ecological needs or change your shopping choices.
If you have banking, pensions or relationships to companies or agriculture that have investments or working practices that contribute towards deforestation and poor tree health, you can have a powerful impact by demanding they address deforestation in their supply chains and work. Speaking up for the ethics you would like to see really supports groups to see the need. Examples of websites that help you to know the impacts of different companies on forests include Switchit, the Global Canopy’s project Forest 500 and Greenpeace.
Resourcing Yourself in This Work
TreeSisters is very clear that it is hard to maintain yourself and your personal integrity without nourishing your personal development. We have created a number of resources to enable you to nourish yourself as you bring your voice forward for the Earth. We invite you to explore...
What You Can Do: TreeSisters Think Global Act Local
What can you do in your local area to support wildlife, local tree planting, food growing networks and your local community’s wellbeing? If you are already doing all these things then really love and appreciate yourself. This grassroots action to strengthen resilient communities and support through bonds of love is core work. Do you feel that you are able to listen to the needs and stories of the Earth in your landscape and in your community’s language? What underlying patterns block the open expression of the needs of the living soil, running waters, wisdom of the bird and insect tribes, brother wind and our allies the trees? Can you use the fabulous language and tools of science, practical projects or the creative arts to explore this? Where are you still feeling controlled by the old systems of colonial rule or that what is in you is not good enough? Where are you uniquely placed to speak up for the needs of the Earth?
It would be great if you become a monthly donor to support TreeSisters reforestation and communities across the Tropics and give reciprocally for all the forests have given us.
If I was only to ask one thing though, it would be that you know that
you are extraordinarily beautiful and important as part of this planetary being.
The gifts in you are medicine for humanity because you’re a human. That’s what it is to be a human at this critical phase of Earth's evolution. You can let go of anything that ever said you were anything less, that there are too many of us, or that there is not enough to go round. Breathe into and love that gold deep within you. There is lots to be done, we are all needed now and it’s all hands on deck.
We are the ones with the unique power to ensure this next decade really is the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and the global momentum around supporting the global forest is fully realised. Our individual experiential relationship with trees helps us to evolve the ethics and practical care that we would like to see in the world. We can hold leaders, industry and local communities to account by supporting great collaborations and being Guardians of the Earth. We can realise who we are as an integral part of Nature and let go of what we are not. Humans, at their very core, are aligned to the wellbeing of Nature. Getting to know this connection in your own body is pivotal to the shift we need to make to becoming a Restorer Species. Trees can really help us with that.
Additional Relevant Resources
To learn more about our projects please visit our Tree page.
To make a donation to support this work please visit our Give page.
Written by Suzi Martineau (Steer)
Published October 20, 2020
Suzi Martineau (birth name Steer) is working on Education and Alliances within the TreeSisters Network and on developing TreeSisters strategy moving forwards into the UNEP Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (2020-2030). She is currently working on a number of different projects including supporting our education through the Nest, developing collaborative partnerships with reforestation and tree focused NGOs and grassroots projects, and extending our online database of global reforestation projects, planting methods, legal strategies, education and media networks with a team of fabulous TreeSisters volunteers.